African teams in the World Cup haven’t been a pretty sight, with only three teams reaching past the second round: Cameroon in Italy 1990, Senegal in South Korea/Japan 2002 and Ghana in South Africa 2010 for a Continent of their size (second only to Asia), they should do a lot better. But can Ivory Coast prove the critics wrong and reach a semi-final, something which no African team has ever done? Short answer is they have a great chance do to so.
But the long answer is complex, Ivory Coast, nicknamed Les Éléphants have only been to three World Cups, Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 where they didn’t leave the group stages, but with the teams they had to face, it would be a struggle for any team to reach round two. In 2006 they had Argentina, Holland and Serbia and Montenegro , beating only the latter saw them leave the competition and in 2010 they had the likes of Portugal, Brazil and North Korea, drawing to Portugal and beating North Korea they unfortunately fell short of the final hurdle.
Currently ranked the best African team at the competition (21st in the World) the 2014 World Cup could see a different ending for the African side, entering the competition in Group C, facing the likes of Colombia, Greece and Japan; the only group in the World Cup where the top two to leave is unpredictable will help Ivory Coast progress to the next rounds, but what will give them the confidence above the rest is the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, held in South Africa.
The team exited the competition in the quarter finals, losing to eventual winners (and World Cup participants) Nigeria 3-1, but with Nigeria facing the likes of Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iran, they will struggle to leave the group. The reason why Ivory Coast will look towards this World Cup with optimism is the weather they play in.
It’s been widely reported the weather in Brazil, most notably how humid it will be, but in the 2013 African Cup of Nations, they faced similar weather in that competition. In Brazil, the average weather in June is 21 degrees with the humidity at 80%, the weather in South African, the country which hosted the tournament was 22 degrees with the humidity at 70%, a ten percent difference but it shows they know how to play in that sort of heat.
Former French international Sabri Lamouchi is experiencing his first stint as a manager and also his first World Cup. His set up of the team is either a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3 with Gervinho on the left, Salomon Kalou on the right and either Didier Drogba or Wilfred Bony down the middle, the have the quality of Yaya Toure and Cheick Tiote behind them to cause any team problems. The front three of Kalou, Gervinho and Bony will be the best option for the team as they’ve scored 42 goals combined last season for their respected clubs, a tally which cannot be over looked. With Didier Drogba now 36 years old and currently without a club, it looks like it will be his last World Cup and will most likely be used as an impact substitute, but what a great player to have at your disposal.
The issue Ivory Coast will have is defence, with Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora as the center back pairing, they have a combined age of 66 and didn’t play regularly last season so there will be questions around quick opposition. Serge Aurier has had a fantastic season playing at the right back position and will support the old guard when needed.
Ivory Coast face a serious possibility for qualifying to the next round of the World Cup if they play well in the group stages, and if they are able to get the best out of Yaya Toure and Wilfred Bony, we could see the very first African team in the semi-finals of a World Cup.